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The Appropriation of Traditional Musical Practices in Modern Yoruba Drama: A Case Study of Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman

Dosunmu, Oyebade Ajibola (2005) The Appropriation of Traditional Musical Practices in Modern Yoruba Drama: A Case Study of Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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While the earliest forms of Yoruba theater may very well be found in ritual plays such as egungun and adamu orisa, over time, noteworthy genres such as alarinjo popular theater, folk opera, and modern literary drama have developed. In a postcolonial society like Nigeria where Western culture has exerted considerable influence, there is ample room for speculation over the extent of European dramatic conventions in modern Yoruba drama. However, regarding the music which so characteristically features in such plays, there is no question about its traditional source. Moreover, modern Yoruba drama evidently draws on a broad cultural spectrum which includes myth, ritual, religion, custom and history, all constituents of a rich oral repository. In my thesis, I examine to what extent the appropriation of traditional musical practices in modern Yoruba drama reflects a cultural self-apprehension in the approach of the dramatist. As a case study, I investigate Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman as a modern development of Yoruba theatrical traditions. Soyinka's plays have been praised for their skilled combination of African dramatic traditions and themes with Western structural elements. In Death and the King's Horseman the elements of music, dance, and miming which characterize traditional theatrical forms such as alarinjo, the traditional traveling theater of the Yoruba, are copiously used to enhance the dramatic scheme of the play. Further, the play which was published in 1975 is Soyinka's adaptation of a historical encounter which took place in 1945 in the Yoruba city of Oyo. When Elesin, commander of the King's stables, tried to commit ritual suicide in fulfillment of cultural expectations following the death of the King, the colonial authorities intervened, marring a ritual process which had important cosmological implications for the people of Oyo. In my thesis, I attempt to contextualize the events portrayed in Horseman within a historical setting relevant for the understanding of the events it portrays. Ultimately, I make comparisons between the techniques of dramatic development in traditional forms such as alarinjo and similar techniques evident in Soyinka's play.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Dosunmu, Oyebade
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairEuba, Akinaeuba@pitt.eduAEUBA
Committee MemberAdjaye, Josephjadjaye@pitt.eduJADJAYE
Committee MemberLewis, Marylsm@pitt.eduLSM
Committee MemberDavis, Nathanndavis@pitt.eduNDAVIS
Date: 7 June 2005
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 6 April 2005
Approval Date: 7 June 2005
Submission Date: 22 April 2005
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Alarinjo Theater; Colonialism in Africa; Egungun Masquerade; History of Yoruba Theater; Language of the Yoruba; Modern African Plays; Music and Drama; Musico-dramatic analysis; Ritual Suicide; Tonal Languages; Yoruba Cosmology; Yoruba Theater and Music
Other ID:, etd-04222005-003959
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:40
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:41


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